I will never forget a phone conversation my husband, Denny, and I had early on in our relationship. It had been a frantic day and my mind was bouncing around a million different tangents, as is the case most of the time. He suggested I take a drive to a quiet spot, somewhere I might encounter nature. I was then to just sit quietly, take in all that was around me – through my eyes, my ears, my sense of smell, even taste and touch if possible.
Honestly, I do not remember what I took in because it was so difficult for me. To this day, almost eight years later, I still admire – and at times envy – his ability to savor and soak in an experience. I try to grasp bits and pieces here and there of the depth with which he can live meaningful moments.
Two ideas from two articles I wrote this issue have really stuck with me. One: Fr. Patrick McConnell’s encouraging parents to teach their children how to pray and relate to God; and two: from the Rich Curran event at Park Falls, the power of sharing stories and heartfelt experiences.
I’ve tried to find ways to incorporate those into my own family – not very successfully, with the busyness of the holidays already in full swing. And then I remembered a few times last Advent when Denny, in lieu of our routine night prayers, turned off all the lights and invited our children to contemplate the manger scene atop the piano in our living room. Only lit by the twinkling white lights, we tried to describe the sights, the sounds and smells of that first Christmas. Imagining the thoughts, hopes and fears of the leading characters: Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the angels, the Wise Men, the townspeople. We all have something in common with each one.
My desire to savor Advent this year is strong – and I know that making the effort to insert myself into the scene in the stable won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. I also know that I need an aid, and Christmas carols help me tremendously open up to the marvel and the mystery of the waiting and the wonder that is Advent and Christmas, real poetry in motion drawing out the earthly scenes and heavenly realities.
Music and the manger. The carols and the crèche. This is my Advent program to prepare to receive God’s gifts. It’s simple enough, and I invite you to try it, for yourself and your own family. Use it as an opportunity to practice spontaneous prayer, inviting young and old to speak directly to Mary, to the baby Jesus. Reminisce on your favorite seasonal hymns and share the memories of Christmases past.
May we all, through the practice of mindfully meditating and savoring through our senses, offer the present of our presence this Christmas, to all we encounter. And may it lead us to a deeper encounter with the Christ Child, as if for the first time, in his Eucharistic presence – his best present to us.